First off, I’d like to thank The Older Brother for once again taking over the sandbox while I was tied up with moving. It’s fun to read the Fat Head blog and laugh out loud for a change. (I don’t laugh while writing, or while reading what I’ve written.)
I’d also like to thank him for creating a new word that I hope will become part of the paleo-blogger vernacular: vegetrollian. Perfect.
Now for the big news, starting with the short version:
As of 10:00 a.m. this morning, when the closing documents were filed, we officially became the proud owners of a 5.7-acre mini-farm here in Franklin, TN.
I’ve been dying to tell y’all about it for weeks, but heard enough horror stories about real-estate deals falling apart the last minute that I decided to wait until the deal was all signed, sealed and delivered. We visited the property with Amy Dungan and her family while they were here a few weeks back, but I swore her to secrecy.
I said in my last post that we were moving this week and then moving again in about three months. That’s because the house on the property needs some significant renovations, so we had to move into an apartment while they’re underway. If all goes well, we’ll become small-time farmers – or least people living on a small farm – around the end of October.
Now for the long version. (Seriously, it’s long. You may want to get a cup of coffee or a cold drink before continuing.)
Not long after we moved here two years ago, Chareva began dreaming of owning enough land to raise chickens and perhaps some goats or sheep. One of the many reasons I love Franklin is that owning a few acres isn’t an impossible dream here … in fact, it’s quite possible. Drive away from downtown Franklin or one of the subdivisions, and within a minute or two you’re looking at small farms and ranches, many of which are situated between residential areas. Multi-acre properties that would require movie-star money anywhere near Los Angeles are fairly common around here.
Owning land wasn’t an impossible dream, but nonetheless felt like a distant one until recently. Back in May, I told the owner of the house we were renting that we’d sign for another year when our lease expires on August 1st. My plan was to save up a decent down-payment and go looking for a property next spring.
Part of the reason I set my sights on next year is that when we bought our house in Burbank 10 years ago, I learned that if you’re self-employed, mortgage bankers calculate your income based largely on the average of your previous two tax returns. We incurred some big fat production expenses for Fat Head in 2009, which pushed my adjusted income close to the official poverty level. Business in 2010 was pretty good, but averaged together with 2009, the resulting income figure wouldn’t exactly make a mortgage banker stand up and uncork the champagne. So I figured next year would be our soonest opportunity to buy some land.
In early June, our landlord changed all my figuring by telling us a friend of a friend was interested in buying the house and wanted to come by for a look. Suddenly we were facing the possibility of having to move in August whether or not it fit our plans. Chareva had been regularly checking for multi-acre properties online for some time (mostly just to indulge her dream) and told me a 5.7-acre mini-farm that seemed ridiculously under-priced had just been listed the day before. She called our next-door-neighbor, who happens to a realtor, and said we wanted to see the property.
As we walked around the land and through the house the next day, I understood why it was under-priced: the elderly widow living there hadn’t maintained much of anything for a long time. The land was overgrown with waist-high weeds – even some of the fences were obscured. Every room in the house needed painting, every floor needed refinishing, many of the fixtures needed replacing, and the whole place smelled like dirt, dog hair, and mold.
So you can imagine my surprise when we got in the van to leave and Chareva said, “I love it. I want it.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, I’m serious. It’s a fixer-upper. You have to picture what it can be, not what it is.”
“Yeah, well, maybe. Sherry has a couple of other places on her list we should probably look at before—“
“No, this is the one.”
“You feel that strongly about it?”
“Yes. It’s worth way more than she’s asking, and if we don’t put in an offer right away, someone else will snap it up.”
I was reminded of something Dave Ramsey said in his financial seminar: Guys, when your wife gets one of “those feelings,” you’d better listen, because she’s probably right.
It occurred to me then that while the girls and I were walking around the property with our realtor, Chareva had disappeared for awhile. Turns out she’d been talking to Barbara – the owner – and they’d bonded immediately. Chareva explained why she wanted a small farm, how it had been her dream since moving to Tennessee. Barbara shared her own stories of raising chickens and goats. Before we left, Barbara told Chareva she felt like they could be long-lost relatives.
The next day we went to see a mortgage banker at Wells Fargo who, much to my surprise, didn’t laugh out loud when he examined the 2009 tax return along with our other financial records. In fact, he looked at my software sales for the year so far, plus the license fees from Netflix, the PayPal DVD sales, etc., and said, “You know, your income sources are kind of unusual, but I think maybe I can make this work for you.” He wrote a letter stating that in his opinion, we were qualified to buy the property. That’s not the same as getting a loan approved – just an initial opinion allowing us to make a good-faith offer.
That afternoon, our realtor called. Someone else had already made an offer on the property, just as Chareva predicted. So Chareva violated the usual etiquette of real-estate transactions by calling Barbara directly. Please put in your own offer, Barbara said. I want you to have this farm. I feel like it’s supposed to be yours. I won’t accept the other offer until I hear from you.
So we called our realtor and she came over to draw up the offer, even though we didn’t yet have loan approval from Wells Fargo.
For the next few days, I worried that Chareva would be crushed if the bank turned us down. She’s emotionally resilient, but definitely had her heart set on the mini-farm – and I mean this one in particular, not just any ol’ mini-farm. It wasn’t so much the house as the property that grabbed her. Other five-acre properties she’d seen online were either all flat pasture or nearly all forested. But this one consisted of three distinct pastures, a small creek, some hills, and some forested area with huge trees. The surrounding area is mostly forest and hills. It’ll be gorgeous when the leaves turn in the autumn. Best of all, the property is only 10 minutes from downtown Franklin and three minutes from the Gentry Farm, which raises and sells grass-fed beef.
We finally got the call from our realtor on a Friday night, just after Amy Dungan and her family arrived for a weekend visit. Yes, Barbara had accepted our offer, and yes, Wells Fargo had approved the loan – in fact, they also approved a renovation loan to go with it so we could begin fixing up the house immediately after closing. I was delighted to get the news while we had good friends in town for a visit. I opened some wine for a toast.
The next Monday, our landlord emailed to say his potential buyer wasn’t interested in the house, so he’d draw up another year-long lease. I replied that we’d just gone under contract to buy another house, but we’d like to continue renting for a few extra months while the new house was being renovated. He didn’t reply, so the next day I called him and made the same offer. He said he was heading into a meeting, and but we’d work out the details later.
The next couple of weeks were a blur of inspections, meetings with contractors, meetings with the bank, calls to my accountant to pull files the bank needed, etc. The first two contractors wanted more for the renovations than the bank had approved. No go. Then we learned that another neighbor’s brother is a contractor. He came out for an inspection and showed us exactly what needs doing immediately, what can wait, and where we could save money by hiring his usual sub-contractors directly. Then he turned in a bid the bank approved.
The big surprise came less than three weeks ago, when the landlord apparently forgot our conversation about extending the lease and announced that his new renters would be moving in on August 1st, so we should start making arrangements to leave. My suspicious side says he didn’t want to turn me down on a month-to-month lease until he found another year-long renter, but he’s also a bit of a scatter-brain, so it’s possible he forgot. Whatever.
So we spent the next couple of days looking around the area for an extended-stay hotel that wouldn’t cost a fortune and trying to figure out what the @#$% to do with our furniture and belongings for three months. A hotel, hmmm … I love my girls, but I wasn’t looking forward to sharing what would amount to a studio apartment with them for three months.
Our realtor suggested we look at a nearby apartment complex that rents a few units on a short-term basis. We dropped by the next day, and it turned out they had exactly one unit available that they could rent on a three-month lease. The girls were thrilled to discover that the large complex includes two big pools and a playground.
We were relieved to find the apartment, but now instead of facing one move three months down the road, we were facing four moves: some of the furniture and belongings to an apartment, most of it to some kind of storage facility, then from the apartment to the new house and from the storage facility to the new house after the renovations are finished. It was a bit overwhelming, thinking about making all this happen with just over two weeks to go.
Now … (I warned you this was a long story) … back up two years. When we left California, we got three quotes from moving companies. The local Allied Van Lines quote came in significantly lower than the others, so we took that one. The day of our move, the independent owner-operator they’d contracted with was clearly unhappy. After two hours of picking up bad vibes, I asked him if something was bothering him.
It turned out the local Allied rep had under-estimated the contents of our house and therefore the cost, probably to ensure we’d go through them. They get a commission, contract the work to a trucker, and they’re done. Unfortunately, the bad estimate on how much truck space we’d require meant that Doug (the guy actually doing the move) and his crew would have to skip what was supposed to be their third pickup in California before heading east.
I asked Doug who ends up eating the loss in a situation like this.
“How much will you lose by skipping that third pickup?”
“Gross or profit?”
“Profit. What’s this going to take out of your pocket?”
“Around five hundred bucks.”
“Okay, listen, Doug .. I’m not going to let you eat the cost of Allied’s mistake, so let’s not make this an issue between you and me. You didn’t cause the problem, and I didn’t cause the problem. Allied caused the problem, but I’ll make it up to you when we arrive in Tennessee. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still getting a good deal on the move.” His disposition changed immediately.
When I handed him the cash after the move, he told me he’d been screwed by moving-company estimators several times, but I was only the second customer ever who offered to make up the difference. We parted on excellent terms.
So … faced with a sudden moving emergency, it occurred to me to call Doug, who lives maybe an hour from here. Yes, he said, of course he remembered us. Sure, he knew exactly what to do. We’d put most of our belongings into PODS storage containers for the next three months. He’d make arrangements with his own crews to conduct all four moves, and he’d give us a better deal than any of the moving companies.
And he did. Two of the moves are already out the way.
We’ve been in the apartment since Monday. It’s quite an adjustment, going from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment. In the house, one of the bedrooms was my office. In the apartment, my office is now one small desk in a corner of my bedroom. I don’t even have my printer or business phone line hooked up yet.
But it’s all worth it. The mini-farm will be fabulous someday … but getting from here to someday will require more work and more funds than we’re getting in the form of a renovation loan. I’ll also be paying a mortgage, apartment rent, and storage-facility rent for the next three months.
Faced with these facts, I conducted a quick observational study that showed a fairly strong correlation between A) working and B) money. Being a skeptic, I asked myself the usual questions: could it be that B causes A? That is, does having money cause work to appear? No, I didn’t think so. Okay, could it be that A and B are both caused by C? Perhaps something in the environment produces more money and also causes us to work more. Nope, that didn’t seem likely either.
Reluctantly, I concluded that 1) the house and land will require money to fix up, and 2) working more leads to extra money. So after two years of blogging and working part-time from home, I decided to go back to full-time contract work as a programmer, at least for awhile. I have, in fact, been working weekdays at BMI in Nashville for two weeks now. I’m just now starting to get used to waking up at 7:00 a.m. again.
Since I wrote two songs for Fat Head, I happen to be member of BMI. (Pretty much everyone who writes music that’s heard on radio, film or TV joins BMI or ASCAP.) First day on the job as a database programmer, I looked up my records to make sure I actually exist. I do. I didn’t worry about entering payment records, since as the producer of Fat Head I’d have to pay myself as a songwriter. I’ll probably just skip all that.
Anyway … (whew!) … that’s the big news I’ve been keeping secret for the past several days. It’s been a crazy, stressful month, but Chareva’s dream is coming true. She’s reading up on how to be a mini-farmer, with the goal of raising or growing much more of what we eat. Back to the land and all that. For my part, I’m starting to plan the layout of my Frisbee golf course around the property.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ll continue blogging as well. When two people from Chicago take up mini-farming in Tennessee, there are bound to be some good stories to share.